Interview with a “mountain-thusiast”
Roland Haas, established Vorarlberg artist and initiator of the project SilvrettAtelier Montafon
At home in his studio overlooking the Montafon mountains, Roland tells us everything: about his artistic beginnings, art in Montafon and his personal fascination of the world of glaciers.
Was it difficult for you as a freelance artist to gain a foothold in the Montafon?
Yes, but I can’t complain, because after studying in Vienna I made a very deliberate decision to return home. Many of my fellow students have remained in Vienna, the crucible of art in Austria. Here in Montafon, I had a long way to go before I received attention for my art. However, it’s still not possible to make a living from it, even though my paintings sold pretty well, especially in the beginning, and I have become known for my watercolour picture book about the Montafon. I was also the only painter of my generation in the valley - a rarity, so to speak. It soon became de rigueur, if you are a resident of the Montafon, to have a "Haas" – this is still the case, or at least I wish it were.
You were also the founder and project manager of the SilvrettAtelier on the Silvretta-Bielerhöhe. How did you come up with the idea?
Through my father, who was employed by Illwerke, I had a certain close relationship with the company. In 1997, I was asked if I wanted to do an art event, after which I developed the concept of Alpine Art Biennale. So in 1998 we were able to start the first SilvrettAtelier on the Silvretta-Bielerhöhe. In 2016 it was first held at the Versettla and is now called SilvrettAtelier Montafon.
In your studio we see a strikingly large number of paintings of mountains and glaciers. Where does your fascination for this come from?
It began in the 80s with two study trips to Iceland, where I was amazed by the glaciers. Then in the 90s in New Zealand, I noticed the glacier retreat for the first time. There are marks there that show where the glacier once stood. It is frightening how quickly the ice has retreated due to climate change. Since then, the glaciers refuse to release their hold on me. In addition to many local glaciers, I have painted glaciers almost all over the world, such as in Greenland and Pakistan. For me they are fascinating creatures that are out of balance due to global warming.
Nature and progress. Is that a contradiction?
No, for me, the two complement each other. My art is always a snapshot. I react by painting what is happening in front of me. For example, some time ago I painted scenery with snow cannons. At the time, they were still bright red. People were proud of the technical progress. Today, snow cannons are silver or white - so they don’t stand out, as if people were ashamed of them. I don’t want to use my paintings to decry the impact on nature, but like to deal critically with it and also show the aesthetic behind it.